Political news

Jim Allister calls on Executive Office to curb 'extravagant' costs

First Minister Arlene Foster and the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness with KPMG's Shaun Kelly and Invest NI's Alastair Hamilton during a four-day trip to the US in March this year. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye

ARLENE Foster and Martin McGuinness's Stormont department has been urged to "cull unnecessary expenditure and waste" after it emerged it spends more than half a million pounds a year on travel and hospitality.

Responses to questions from TUV leader Jim Allister show the Executive Office – formerly the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) – spends an average of £33,000 on travel each month and £12,000 on hospitality.

The answers to Mr Allister's questions do not detail what the money is spent on but divides the total between 'costs for overseas offices' and 'cost excluding overseas offices'.

The Executive Office operates three overseas bureaus – Brussels, Washington and Beijing.

The total travel expenses incurred by the department in the last financial year were £396,400.

When the travelling expenses of the overseas offices are excluded, the bill still tops £300,000.

Hospitality costs for the Executive Department were £144,000 last year, with the overseas offices accounting for £101,000 of the total.

Mr Allister acknowledged that "some level of expenditure" was necessary, especially in running of the offices in Belgium, the USA and China.

However, he described the overall figure of more than £540,000 a year as "extravagant".

"Maybe the travelling entourage of spads (special advisers) and civil servants is too great when the first ministers travel abroad," he said.

"Junkets at public expense are not acceptable – in this modern age of instant communication would much be lost if the special advisers assisted from Belfast?"

The Executive Office said last night that only essential staff support the first and deputy first minister on visits. “Over the last five years Invest NI has secured 87 new investors for Northern Ireland.

“These investors will create 4,327 new jobs and generate £255.6m investment into our local economy.

“Ministerial visit programmes are a vital part of Invest NI’s Foreign Direct Investment strategy, with investors often citing access to our government as a unique strength.

”While others may prefer to pull down the shutters we intend to continue to leave no stone unturned to promote Northern Ireland as a great place to live, visit, work and invest.” 

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